By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A rally for Muslims in Joplin, Missouri, drew hundreds of people on Saturday night, nearly three weeks after a local mosque was destroyed by a fire which members of the Islamic community suspect was a hate crime, the organizer of the event said.
The gathering at a city park was promoted on a Facebook page as a way to show "that love is stronger than fear or hatred."
Organizers saw the rally in part as a giving-back to the local Muslim community because their mosque was a relief center for victims of the May 2011 tornado in Joplin, which took 161 lives and damaged or destroyed more than 8,000 buildings.
"It's amazing," rally organizer and college student Ashley Carter said in a telephone interview during the event. "People who are of completely different cultures and beliefs are here having a conversation with each other, which is awesome."
She said hundreds of people took part in the rally, but could not provide an exact number.
Federal and local investigators have not determined the cause of the fire that destroyed the Islamic Center of Joplin, on August 6, but leaders of the local Muslim community suspect it was a hate crime. A small fire also occurred there on July 4.
The fire that destroyed the Joplin mosque happened the morning after a white supremacist shot dead six worshipers at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee, then killed himself after he was wounded by police. Police and Sikh temple members speculated that he might have mistakenly thought Sikhs were Muslims.
About $406,000 has been raised to rebuild the Joplin mosque. The donations have far exceeded the goal of $250,000, said Kimberly Kester, spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Joplin.
"There are really no words we can use to convey how appreciative we are and how much this means to us," Kester said. "Everyone is coming together to be a stronger community."
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; editing by David Bailey and Mohammad Zargham)